Step 3: We make a decision, individually and then collectively, to turn our life and the life of our marriage over to the care of God.
One of my favorite movie scenes that always comes to mind whenever the topic of surrender comes up is from Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail. Indiana and his father team up to search for the cup that Jesus served communion from at the last supper. The legend was the holy water from this cup has healing powers greater than any medicine.
As Indy is nearing the end of his search, he enters a cave armed only with the journal his father has kept for his whole life for the purpose of finding the holy grail. Indy comes to a vast chasm with no apparent way to get from one side to the other. He consults the journal and sees a sketch of a bridge over the chasm. The journal instructs him to take several steps the his left along the ledge and then step into the darkness on to the invisible bridge that will get him to the other side. To get to the Holy Grail, Indy will have to cross this chasm.
It’s a tense moment. Death is certain if Indy falls into the chasm, but Indy knows his father would not provide him with bad information. He also knows that if he does not cross to the other side, he will be killed by his enemies who are behind him in the race to find the holy grail first. In a somewhat resistant and rigid act, he sticks his foot out into the darkness and begins to fall towards the unseen bridge. (Spoiler alert, he doesn’t fall to his death!) He lands on the bridge, crosses the chasm and into the chamber where the holy grail is hidden.
It’s a powerful scene about faith, trust, love, and hope. At some point in our lives, we all come to face the mythical “chasm” in our lives. For you, perhaps this is your marriage. Indy surrenders his life to a process that is beyond what he can see. Only when we come to the end of ourselves, and of our spouse, we are ready to accept the care and love of God.
Surrender is a deeply troubling word for me. It’s mention immediately conjures up images and the concept of war. When I have lost and it’s clear that my continual fight will only cost more lives and even my own life, I’m faced with the choice of surrender or death. Those two don’t sound like two very appealing options. Yet what I see time and time again in my own life, and in the life of those that I work with is the refusal to surrender. We say “I don’t want to fight anymore” but that usually is an attempt at getting the other to lay down their weapons first.
Our weapons of choice in marriage are blame, abandonment, contempt, name calling, stone walling, silence, rage, manipulation, self-pity, violence of words or actions, and punishment. These are the tools we use to wage war with our spouse, not because we want to fight (though invariably some people feel like they always need a fight), but because we don’t want to surrender.
Surrender means that we lay down these weapons, and accept whatever it is that comes as a result of laying down those weapons. The crazy thing is that surrender is a certain kind of death in and of itself. In the context of war, when someone surrenders, they turn the authority of their existence and kingdom (if that’s what was at stake) over to the will and power of the one who defeated them. That’s not a very comforting thought, especially when dealing with other flawed humans as the kings and queens of lands and people. More often than not what we see is a kind of faux surrender. The outward act of surrender happens, but it’s part of a secret plot to somehow keep fighting and to ultimately win by any means necessary.
We see this truth in the natural world all the time. Animals will fight over territory, sometimes to the death of both parties. Several years ago there was a video making the rounds on social media of two bucks (male deer) that had gotten their antlers locked together during a turf dispute, but in the process both had gotten tangled up in a barbed wire fence. The land owners found these two bucks exhausted on the ground, and death was certain for both if they could not get untangled.
Often times the relationship with our spouse looks just like those two deer. We will fight and fight and fight, and won’t give up, even if it means both of our lose. We won’t ask for help because our pride and ego is far too involved. When we don’t ask for help — when we don’t surrender — we die. In the context of marriage, sometimes this death is to soul of the individual, and also to the marriage itself.
Surrender does not mean that everything will eventually turn out the way we’d hoped, or that it will return to the glory days of the relationship. I think it’s quite the opposite. Surrender means that we decide that our attempts at fixing or fighting things have not gone well, and that God is the only one who can restore us to sanity, and that we trust in him more than we trust him ourselves. Just like Indy trusted in his dad’s promise in the journal, this too is the invitation for us to trust in someone or something bigger than ourselves.
I remember sitting on the deck of the house we could no longer afford. It was in the middle of the housing crisis in 2009, and our finances were rapidly decaying. My wife just told me that our marriage was also rapidly decaying and that she was done. I’d exhausted every effort to salvage my position on our finances. I was logical, but filled with self-righteousness, and completely missed the point my wife was making. It didn’t matter what I did or said, the reality was she was scared and felt unsafe with how I was working, and taking care of our family. I had a choice to make: I either surrender to my own failures, with integrity, responsibility, and humility; or I keep fighting to win what I had believed until that point was my North Star — she’s too demanding and not helping me.
Thank God I chose surrender. If I hadn’t, I’m not sure we’d still be married today. I didn’t know it at the time, but I began to work these steps of marriage recovery. I admitted my powerlessness, my humanness, that my plan and way had failed. That led me to coming face to face with God. Would I admit and surrender that my plan and efforts were not working and surrender myself and my marriage?
That is the question that every single marriage faces, whether they know it or not. Will you surrender your way? I think this step is why marriage counselors, coaches, teachers, and authors exist. People surrender their way and when that happens, they ask for help. Asking for help is one of the most humble and courageous steps that any of us will ever take. It’s an admission of our limits, failures, or disabilities.
Only when we surrender can the transformative work of God begin to show up in our marriages.
Action step: Find something symbolic for you that represents the surrender of yourself and your ways. Perhaps this is something that is about the way your fight or withhold love, or something that shows what “your way” looks like. Share that symbol with your spouse and ask if they are willing to share theirs with you.
Journal Reflection Questions:
- What words come to mind when you think about “surrender.”
- Who do you know of that has surrendered their lives?
- Who is someone you can ask for help to walk with you as you attempt to daily surrender your ways?
- Is there something between you and surrender?
- What have you discovered about yourself thus far in the process?